Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2016


It started innocently enough.
Me and newly-minted four-year-old granddaughter (hereinafter known as Please-Be-Patient-With-Me-I’m-Learning. Or PBPWMIL, for short) discussing the pros and cons (mostly cons) of taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
“But I wanted it,” she affirmed.
“I know, Sweetheart. But you can’t take something that doesn’t belong to you.”
I should probably mention here that I am speaking to a little girl with snapping dark eyes, shining dark hair, and smeared chocolate from nose to ears to chin. Not to mention the chocolate wrappers strewn about her small person.
Yep. Caught red-handed.
Or chocolate-chinned.
“How would you feel if little brother took something that was yours?”
“I would take it back!”
“Would you be sad that he had it?”
“Yeah. So I would take it back!”
“So should I take the chocolate back that you took from me?”
She frowned at that logic for a moment.
I presumed I was getting my point across.
A little note: Never assume anything when speaking to a recently graduate of Being Three.
She looked at me, wide eyes earnest and opened her little red bow of a mouth.
Here it comes, I thought. I finally got through to her!
“But I wanted it.”
Sigh. We’d come full circle.
“Okay, let’s start again,” I said. “Sweetheart how would you feel if someone took something that belonged to you?”
She stared at me. Then, “I can’t answer right now. My brain is empty.”
We’re considering encouraging her to run for political office.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Tell-Tale Sneeze

“Norma. Watching you sneak around like that is just really . . . creepy.”
She looked at me. “For your information, I am not sneaking!” She lifted her nose into the air with attitude. “I’m tiptoeing.”
Should I say it? My sister is, for want of a better word, bulky. Yeah, I’m going in. “Well, when you do it, it’s creepy.”
This time, I got a glare.
I grinned. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to trap our ghost!”
I should probably mention to any first-timers out there that my sister and I have a ghost. Well—our house has a ghost. Or some sort of resident.
One that smells nice.
I introduced you to him or her (I’m going with her) here.
I felt my eyebrows go up. When I’m talking to my sister, they do it a lot. “How are you planning to trap our ghost?”
“I’ve figured out what she (my sister agrees on the sex of our secret inhabitant) has a weakness for. And I’m going to bait a trap with it.”
My eyebrows went higher. “And the tiptoeing?”
She looked at me. “I’m trying to keep her from finding out about it until it’s too late.”
“Norma, do you honestly believe that our ghost can’t see everything you’re doing right now?”
She thought about that for a moment. Then, “I’m going to go with no. For one thing . . .” she stepped into the tell-tale spot “. . . I can’t smell her perfume.”
“Oh.” I thought about that one. Maybe she had a point. “Ummm . . . so what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to put down this handful of hay.” She held up some dull green grass.
Okay. Eyebrows again. “Hay?”
“Yes. And when she sniffs it, she’ll sneeze. Then I’ll have her!”
“Norma. When you sniff hay, you sneeze.”
“Yeah. So?”
“I don’t.”
She just kept looking at me. “And?”
“Norma,” I said patiently. “Not everyone is allergic to hay. And besides, she’s a ghost. Ghosts don’t sneeze.
“But when I wave it . . .” Norma did so. And sneezed violently.
It echoed weirdly around the room.
I suddenly felt something go creepy-crawly down my back. “Norma,” I said quietly. “Do that again.”
She waved the hay. And sneezed.
This time, the echo was a little behind.
And a little to the right.

Each month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado gives her blogosphere friends a challenge to Use Your Words.
Each blogger is given words from another blogger.
It's totally fun.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gone Bogging

How peaceful it all looks.
So deceptive . . .
The 'tree field' on the ranch was just that.
A field.
With trees.
Distinguished from all of the other fields by their lack of said trees.
Because it had trees, it also offered cover. An ideal place for spring calving.
I was Dad's herdsman. It was my duty to oversee the spring calving and make sure that all calves . . . and their mothers . . . survived.
Normally, things went well.
Occasionally, they did not.
But that is another story . . .
Usually, when I rode out to check the cows, I rode.
On a horse. One of a selection of brain-dead, bone-headed ex-racehorses, I will admit.
But on this day, I was in a hurry.
So I fired up Dad's one-ton truck - the one with the dual rear wheels - and headed out to the field.
I should explain, here, that the tree field had trees because it was situated next to an irrigation canal. A wide trench that meandered through the country side. In the spring, the gates are opened and water from the Old Man River diverted into the various canals for irrigating the dry land farms and ranches throughout Southern Alberta. An effective system.
But the canals were getting old.
And water seeped from them into the adjacent land.
Great if your land was close by and needed water.
Which the tree field was.
And did.
Thus – trees.
But the land could also become quite saturated.
And boggy.
Particularly in the clearing in the centre of the trees.
We thought it was very entertaining.
One could stomp on the seemingly dry ground and the land all around would quiver.
There was enough dry soil on top to hold up a cow.
Or my horses.
But remember, I was in the truck.
Considerably heavier than any horse or cow.
Back to my story . . .
I innocently drove out to check the herd.
The first pass, the one on the higher ground near the road, went well.
But there were no cows near the road, either.
I moved into the trees for a second pass.
Starting at the far east side of the field, I worked my way west.
Stopping now and then to walk into the trees to investigate a barely-seen patch of red hide.
I reached the far west side and started to turn.
It was then that I realized that I . . . and my truck . . . were sinking.
Here's something you don't see every day. A truck, sinking out of sight in the middle of a dry land ranch in Southern Alberta.
I had two options.
  1. Holler for one of my parents.
  2. Mat that gas pedal and pray.
My parents were my parents. They lived to get me out of scrapes.
But both of them were at the ranch a mile away to the West.
I was on my own.
I went with my second option.
Mud and water sprayed from those dual tires as the truck struggled for purchase.
For a few, heart-stopping moments, it looked as though the bog would win.
Then, slowly, the truck started to climb up out of the hole.
Finally, I was flying along atop the bog.
I kept the gas pedal to the floor until I was through the tree line and solidly back on dry ground.
Then I stopped the truck and simply breathed.
I left the truck and walked (I may be a slow learner, but I do learn.) back to inspect the ruts I had left.
They were three feet deep and rapidly filling with water.
My brother told me later that I was a heartbeat away from losing the truck entirely.
“And the only thing that would have salvaged the situation would have been to call in a cherry-picker.”
I don't have to tell you that the 'cherry-picker' he is talking about had nothing to do with picking cherries.
And everything to do with being expensive.
Thank goodness for gas pedals.
And prayer.
A little side note here: The provincial government has updated all of the canals, lining them so they are much more efficient and less--for want of a better word--leaky. On a recent visit, I couldn't find the tree field. When the water supply dried up, so did the trees.
It was a sad, sad moment.
My steed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Falling Again

I discovered ‘Fall’ when I was ten,
Yes, Autumn happened long before,
I just began to notice then.
Sit back, I’d like to tell you more…

To make us culturally aware,
Our Mom would haul us once a week,
To Mrs. Sproad of the greying hair,
For music lessons. So to speak.

Each time, I’d sweat my half an hour,
On piano bench. With tongue in teeth,
When brother sat, I got to scour
The farm. From barns to distant heath.

With collie, Princess, by my side,
I wandered out wher’er I could.
Through grasses long and leaves all dried,
Just two of us there in the woods.

The sounds, the smells I can’t forget,
The crisp and spicy odors pleased,
If I could, I’d be there yet,
Running through the crunchy leaves.

With Princess and her ringing bark,
My trustworthy companion, she,
A furry, friendly matriarch
Who now is just a memory.

So now each time I smell those smells,
Or find myself knee deep in leaves,
The memories, I can’t dispel,
The magic. On my heart it breathes.

Each month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado issues a challenge to her fellow poetically-minded bloggers.
Here's a theme.
This month's theme? Fall.
For me, another opportunity to go back to one of my fondest memories...

Here's what our other poets have concocted:
Karen of Baking in a Tornado: Fall Poetry
Dawn of Spatulas On Parade: Fall or Autumn, Which one do we call ya?
Jules of The Bergham Chronicles: Falling Into You
Candice of Measurements of Merriment: Witchy Women

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Good Cow Pony

Daddy at 6 on Peggy.
Another good cow pony.

A good cow pony is more than just transportation in the ranching world.

It is partner, confidante, shelter, and yes, even protector.
Dad's horse had been superbly trained.
By him.
Calving season is a rather exciting time of the year. For at least a couple of reasons.
Because new babies are appearing in the fields. And new baby calves are cute.
But also because you are getting up close and personal with warm, furry creatures who outweigh you by several hundreds of pounds.
See? Exciting. In an unpredictable/ohmygoodness sort of way.
Most cows on the Stringam ranch calved between January and March.
Without ceremony or fanfare.
In the field.
Calves were tagged and given their newborn shots within a few feet of where they were born.
I should mention here that Hereford cows are docile and easily managed.
Except when they have a newborn calf nearby.
You've heard the stories about getting between she-bears and their babies?
Well, Hereford cows would kill to have that reputation.
Hmm . . . Actually, they would have to kill to get that reputation.
Just thought I'd point that out.
Because it really has nothing to do with this story.
Moving on . . .
Hereford cows may not be the black-leather-clad, chain-toting members of the bovine family, but they can still be rather aggressive when their babies are in danger.
Or when they think their babies may be in danger.
As when people are around.
My Dad found this out the exciting way.
He had come across a newborn calf, lying 'hidden' in the tall grass.
Dismounting, he straddled the calf and prepared to vaccinate.
And that's when Mama noticed him.
Suddenly, a thousand pounds of red and white indignation were breathing down his neck.
And I do mean down his neck.
I know this will sound funny, but when a cow is threatening, the best place to be in the wide-open prairie is 'under' one's well-trained horse.
You crawl under your horse and no cow will come near.
Hastily, Dad pulled himself and his captive under his horse and continued with his work.
The cow snorted and fidgeted, circling around, trying to find the flaw in this scenario.
The horse kept one eye on her. All the while turning to keep his hind quarters directed towards the irate bundle of hair and aggression.
This worked for a few moments.
But finally, even the presence of a larger, stronger, and infinitely smarter creature didn't deter.
She charged.
Remember where I mentioned that the horse kept his hind quarters towards the cow?
That's because that is a horse's 'dangerous' end. (Brings a whole new mean to calling someone a horse's a##, doesn't it?)
Ahem . . .
Always loaded.
And ready to fire.
He let fly.
With both barrels.
He caught the cow in the head.
In mid-charge.
Now a cow's head is composed mostly of bone.
They can be hurt.
But it takes a lot.
This kick merely stopped the cow for a moment.
She shook her head, confused.
Then looked around.
What had she been doing?
About that time, Dad finished with the calf and let it go.
It trotted over to its mother and the two of them hurried towards the nearest far-away place.
Dad stood up and gave his horse a pat.
“Good boy.”
Then mounted up and continued his ride.
Another rather mundane day in the life of a good cow-pony.
What would we do without them?

Monday, October 10, 2016


It's Thanksgiving here in Canada. What am I thankful for? 
This will start you out. It started me out . . .
My home town!
Southern Alberta small town life in the 50s.
Crime hadn't been invented yet.
It was, literally, a different world.
Our doors were never, ever locked.
Every house contained numerous children, who ran hither and yon (good term) all day long. In and out of each-other's yards and homes and refrigerators.
Mom, like all of the other moms, worked in her home, cooking, polishing and cleaning and doing other 'Mom' stuff.
She would come to the door at meal times and call out into the street, whereupon (another good word) her various offspring would head home for home-cooked food.
Canned soup was something new and wonderful. Always served with yummy homemade bread sandwiches.
At some point during the day, one of us kids would be sent downtown with a pillowcase to the local post office to retrieve the mail.
Shopping inevitably meant going to one of the two (yes, we had two) grocery stores, or if clothing or dry goods were required, Robinson's.
The drug store ran a tab (a sheet of paper with our names written on it) for chocolate bars purchased.
At ten cents each.
Freshly-roasted nuts could be procured from the display in the centre of the store.
Trips with Dad to see the insurance agent inevitably meant a Hershey chocolate bar, because the bottom drawer of Mr. Hofer's desk was full of them.
We had our own cobbler, Mr. Szabo, and I loved to go with Dad to his shop because it was fascinating to watch him fashion great hunks of leather into real shoes with his little hammer.
A trip to one of the two local car dealers turned into an adventure when he showed us his brand new Polaroid camera that magically developed its own pictures while you waited.
Every Saturday, Dad would send us to the movies with fifty cents. Twenty-five for the movie. Ten for popcorn and ten for a bottle of Grape Crush with a straw.
With five cents left over.
Until I discovered that the five cents could be spent on a package of licorice. Whereupon (that word again), I started coming home empty-handed.
But happy.
The theatre also had 'cuddle seats'. Double sized seats at both ends of every other row. Perfect for two sweethearts to cuddle in together while they watched 'Santa and the Martians' or 'Sinbad' or 'Lassie'.
All candy contained sugar and natural flavours.
Most of it was made on this continent.
Our clothes were mostly cotton.
Easily wrinkled, but pressed into shape by Mom's ever-present iron.
Easter Sunday was an opportunity to wear one's new spring hat and matching outfit.
And absolutely everyone attended church.
Thanksgiving was a chance to gather, not only one's own enormous family, but any and all extended family members and shoe-horn the entire mob into any available space.
At Christmas, an enormous, real tree was erected in the centre of the intersection of Main and First streets.
The traffic happily drove around it for the entire season.
The arrival of Santa in Mr. Madge's special North Pole plane, a much anticipated event.
And, once again, everyone went to church.
Midnight mass with one's Catholic friends was a special treat.
We rode our bikes down dirt - then gravel – roads.
One always held one's breath when a car went past until the dust cloud following it settled down.
Cars always drove slowly because the streets were inevitably teeming with children (or better known by their technical name - 'small fry').
There was only one channel on the black and white TV set, so if the program airing didn't appeal, there was literally nothing on TV.
In the evenings, when one wasn't involved in cubs, scouts, or CGIT, one was home with the family, watching the one TV channel or playing games together.
Mom always made treats.
Yummy ones.
We had whole neighbourhoods of Hungarians, Germans and Japanese.
And all of them were wonderful people and terrific cooks.
Funny how so many memories revolve around food . . .
Sports events were exactly that.
Ball games were played in a dirt lot and the crowd sat on the ground or brought their own chairs to enjoy the fun.
Basketball was huge.
The whole town would pack the high-school gym to cheer on our teams.
Winter sports were limited to home-style rinks, or the town rink, and only when it was cold enough to support ice.
The curling rink, with its refrigeration unit, was always popular.
'Bonspiel-ing' was a sport in itself.
The town was founded on and supported by, farming and ranching.
Most of the vehicles that rumbled down the streets were dusty farm trucks, many containing a farm animal or two.
And everyone knew everyone else.
Their address, phone number (Jody's phone number was 6), family members.
Even pets.
It was a wonderful way to grow up.
Like an enormous, caring family . . .
I loved growing up in Milk River.
It was a perfect life.
But that 'small-town' life is largely vanished everywhere now.
Oh, one can catch glimpses of it.
Friendly neighbourhoods.
Caring neighbours.
But the absolute freedom of those days is gone.
Replaced by something . . . darker.
More suspicious.
It's a great pity.
So now it's your turn. What are you thankful for?

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